VATICAN CITY — God waits for everyone, even the worst sinner who repents only with his dying breath, Pope Francis said.
"Before God, we present ourselves with empty hands," he said, meaning that all the good works people have or haven't done throughout their lives aren't measured to determine entry into heaven.
"A word of humble repentance was enough to touch Jesus' heart" and to make Him promise eternal life in heaven even to a poor criminal, he said Oct. 25 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.
The pope announced the day's catechesis would be the last in his series of audience talks on Christian hope, adding that the last talk, therefore, would look at hope's final fulfillment in heaven.
A curious fact, he said, is that the word "paradise" appears just once in the Gospels; it's used when Jesus from the cross promises the thief executed with Him that "today you will be with me in paradise." The "good thief," the pope said, had the courage to recognize his sins and humbly ask Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
The good thief had done no good works in his life and had nothing to show Jesus that he had earned or was worthy of heaven, he said. "He had nothing, but he trusted in Jesus, whom he recognized as someone innocent, good, so different from himself."
The "good thief reminds us of our true condition before God: that we are His children, that He feels compassion for us," that He can't resist "every time we show Him we are homesick for His love."
The miracle of forgiveness is repeated continually, especially in hospital rooms and prison cells, the pope said, because "there is no person, no matter how badly he has lived, who is left with only desperation and is denied grace."
"God is father and He awaits our return up to the last moment," he said, just like the father of the prodigal son did.
"Paradise is not a fairy tale or an enchanted garden," the pope said "Paradise is the embrace of God, infinite love, and we enter thanks to Jesus who died on the cross for us."
"Wherever Jesus is, there is mercy and happiness; without Him, it is cold and dark," he said.
Jesus "wants to lead us to the most beautiful place in existence, and He wants to bring us there with the little or immense good that has been in our life, because nothing is lost in that which he has already redeemed," the pope said.
Only Jesus, in His infinite mercy, would die for sinners
VATICAN CITY — Going to Mass regularly, praying and doing good works are not enough to make a person a good Christian, Pope Francis said.
One must truly enter into the mystery of Jesus Christ's precious gift of "loving me" so much, "He gave Himself" and was crucified and died for everyone's sins, the pope said in his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Oct. 24.
It might be possible to find someone who would be willing to die for another person who was good and righteous, the pope said. But only Jesus Christ was willing to give His life "for a sinner like me."
That is the mystery that Christians must pray and reflect upon because it defies all understanding and logic, he said.
People may think of themselves as "a good Christian, 'I go to Mass every Sunday, I do works of mercy, I recite prayers, I educate my children.' And this is great," he said. "But the question I have is, 'You do all of this, but have you ever entered into the mystery of Jesus Christ?'"
"Entering into the mystery of Jesus takes more" than listening to the Gospel and understanding the catechism and Church teaching, the pope said. "It is abandoning oneself to that abyss of mercy where there are no words, only the embrace of love. The love that led Him to his death for us."
The pope suggested people meditate on the Way of Cross at home, reflecting on each moment of the Lord's passion. Reflect and imagine, he said, "and that way seek to understand with the heart that He loved me and gave Himself for me."
— Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service